There is a clear set of principles established for the people of Israel in the Old Testament to ensure the longevity of the land and its sustainability as a continuous source of food. The goal was to ensure that each generation would pass on to the next generation land that was as fertile as it was for them. For example, in Exodus we read:
“Sow and reap your crops for six years, but let the land renew itself and remain uncultivated for the seventh year. So let the poor among you reap whatever grows for themselves. Leave the rest for wild animals to eat. The same goes for your vineyards and your olive groves. (Exodus 23:10-11, NLT)
This is reiterated again in the book of Leviticus:
“…but in the seventh year the land must have a…year of complete rest…Do not plant your fields and prune your vines in that year. grow on their own or do not harvest the grapes from your unpruned vines.The land must have a year of complete rest. (Leviticus 25:4-5, NLT)
In agricultural terms, this is called fallowing. When you leave land fallow, it helps the soil regain its fertility and helps rid the area of pests and diseases that can occur when one type of crop is planted and grown in the same place over and over again.
While many Old Testament precepts were unique to the people of Israel and/or fulfilled in Christ, the core of God’s intent is often timeless. The big idea here was to care for the land in a way that would ensure long-term use, viability and well-being.
So where could we need to think the same way today with our creative challenges and responsibilities?
Think of rainforests.
Rainforests are an integral part of God’s creation, producing about 20% of our oxygen and storing an enormous amount of carbon dioxide, which greatly reduces the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Massive amounts of solar radiation are absorbed by rainforests, helping to regulate temperatures around the world.
Rainforests also help maintain the global water cycle and water supply. A fifth of the world’s fresh water is stored in the Amazon basin alone.
It is also where much of the life on our planet is found. Some estimate that up to 75% of all species are native to our planet’s rainforests. It is also estimated that there may be several million species of plants, insects and micro-organisms as yet undiscovered in tropical rainforests. The Amazon rainforest, which is the largest in the world, is home to at least 40,000 species of plants, nearly 1,300 species of birds, 3,000 types of fish, 427 species of mammals and 2.5 million different insects. And again, we don’t know how many more are yet to be discovered.
Tropical rainforests have also been called “the world’s greatest pharmacy” because one in four natural medicines have been discovered there. Rainforest plants are used in the creation of muscle relaxants, steroids and insecticides. They are used to treat asthma, arthritis, malaria, heart disease and pneumonia. According to the National Cancer Institute in the United States, 70% of the plants useful in the treatment of cancer are found only in tropical forests. And we have no idea what medical breakthroughs are yet to be found in rainforest plants that would be a game-changer in terms of curing everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer, because less than one percent rainforest species have been analyzed for their medicinal value.
Yet they are rapidly disappearing due to deforestation, leading to habitat loss and atmospheric pollution.
Tropical forests have been subject to extensive legal and illegal logging for their valuable hardwoods, as well as agricultural clearing, sometimes referred to as slash-and-burn or clearcut logging. The result is that while tropical forests covered 14% of all land on Earth, they now cover only 6%. Since 1947, the total area of tropical forests has more than halved.
And it’s not over.
One hundred acres of rainforest are being cleared every minute for agricultural and industrial development.
This reminds me of an intriguing passage in Deuteronomy where a unique prohibition was given even in the midst of war:
“When you attack a city and the war drags on, you must not chop down the trees with your axes. You can eat the fruit, but don’t cut down the trees. Are the trees your enemies, so you attack them? You can only cut down trees that you know have no food value. Use them to craft the equipment you need to attack the enemy city until it falls. (Deuteronomy 20:19-20, NLT)
It was common in warfare to devastate an area during a siege. Not only to attack and conquer, but also to ensure that you also left the land devastated. In other words, environmental terrorism.
God said not to do that.
Instead, protect the trees. Protect what they bring to the world. Don’t do anything for short-term gains that compromises long-term needs.
…trees are not the enemy.
James Emery White
Rainforest facts and figures from National Geographic and Wikipedia.
Sandra L. Richter, Stewards of Eden: What the Scriptures Say About the Environment and Why Iyou count (InterVarsity Press, 2020), p. 2.
“Like the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment,” published by the National Association of Evangelicals, Revised Edition (2022), p. 16.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I believe”, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. .
Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.